Welcome back to Behind The Scenes Saturday! I ended up missing last week because I was with my family and I ran out of time. This week I’m paying tribute to one of the greatest werewolf films of all time, An American Werewolf In London! I picked this film because, even after all this time, it has some of the most incredible special effects that definitely aged well.
(WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW!!!)
(Trivia provided by IMDb.com)
- In 2007, actor Griffin Dunne stated he was afraid that his mother wouldn’t be able to handle seeing her son as a mutilated corpse in the film. She was very ill at the time, and when she finally saw the film, she was deeply disturbed by it.
- Special effects artist Rick Baker was disappointed by the amount of time that was spent shooting the face changing shot for the werewolf transformation. He spent months working on the mechanism for the transformation, and director John Landis only needed one take that lasted about seven seconds. Baker felt he wasted his time. But then he saw the film with an audience who applauded during those seven seconds.
- For the production of the film, John Landis, Rick Baker, David Naughton, and Griffin Dunne all needed American work permits from the British government. The British government granted three of the four permits willingly. However, the British office of Actors’ Equity questioned the need for a permit for Griffin Dunne. They felt that Great Britain had plenty of American actors who could portray the character, Jack. After John Landis threatened to re-write his script and re-title it An American Werewolf In Paris, the equity office reconsidered the application and granted Dunne his permit.
- David Naughton revealed that his most difficult scene to shoot was the dream sequence where he’s in the hospital bed in the forest. He said it was the most painful because of the contacts he had to wear.
- Polygram executives wanted John Landis to cast Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as the two leads, David and Jack. Landis refused because he wanted to use new faces for the roles.
- Michael Jackson was so amazed by the film, he wanted to hire the people responsible for it for his famous Thriller music video. John Landis agreed to direct the music video, and he brought on Robert Paynter for cinematography, Elmer Bernstein for “creepy music”, Rick Baker for special make-up effects, and Deborah Nadoolman for costume design.
- After waiting for over eight years while John Landis was trying to get this film made, Rick Baker became impatient and decided to use his work for The Howling (1981). Finally, Landis got the budget for An American Werewolf In London and called Baker. When Baker informed him that he was already working on a werewolf film, a heated argument over the phone ensued. Baker ended up leaving The Howling to his Protégé, Rob Bottin.
- During the opening scene where David and Jack are walking towards the town and conversing, Griffin Dunne’s nose started running because of the damp and cold weather. While talking, David Naughton looked over at Dunne and caught him wiping a stream of snot from his nose. This caused both actors to laugh while delivering their lines. Because the scene was mostly improvisation anyway, John Landis kept that take in the film.
- Griffin Dunne was advised by John Landis that his character, Jack, needed to always be encouraging, optimistic, and cheerful, despite being a member of the undead. This was difficult for Dunne to accomplish, considering he was seeing what he would look like as a rotting and mutilated corpse.
- John Landis and Rick Baker disagreed many times about the design of the werewolf. Baker wanted a bipedal (two-legged) werewolf, as that’s how he viewed werewolves. Landis disagreed and wanted a “four-legged hound from hell”.
- Quite a few scenes had to be cut down or taken out in order to keep an R-rating. The film’s sex scene had to be toned down, a part where a piece of toast falls out of Jack’s undead throat had to be cut, and the scene where the three homeless men were killed had to be taken out due to negative preview audience reactions.
- During Jack’s death scene, Rick Baker told Griffin Dunne to be careful with the werewolf’s head, because it was new and delicate. During the first take, Griffin ended up ripping the foam rubber off of the head. Rick was irritated by this and, as revenge, he considered putting hard teeth in the werewolf. Instead of doing that, he ended up using his back-up wolf head to “beat the crap out of Griffin”.
- The nightmare sequence with the nazi werewolves caused some audience members to walk out. Griffin Dunne and David Naughton loved the scene. However, one thing concerned David at the time of filming. He stated, “the stuntman who was holding that real knife to my throat couldn’t see out of the mask, so that kind of concerned me”.
- When asked why he chose London for the setting of the film, John Landis’s response was because “London was horror central, of course, home to Jack the Ripper, Jekyll and Hyde, so I wanted all that Victorian Gothic, but I also wanted to show the real London of 1981”.
- People always mistake An American Werewolf In London for a comedy. Landis responded to this, saying, “It’s not a comedy. People keep calling it a comedy, it’s very funny I hope, but it is a horror film. We meet these guys in a truckload of sheep. This is not subtle. I mean, these boys are dead by the end of the movie. That’s not really a happy tale”.
- It took around 5 hours to add the undead makeup to Griffin Dunne.
- In 2017, Griffin Dunne was asked in an interview about shooting the pub scene. He stated, “nobody ever broke character. Nobody came up to us like, ‘hey, kids, how are you liking America?’ Or any of that stuff. They just looked at us like we were cursed”.
- When asked about his inspiration for the film, John Landis said it “was the old 1940s horror film, The Wolf-Man, starring Lon Chaney Jr. in which, unusually, the werewolf was portrayed as a victim. Films tend to show the transformation from man to wolf through dissolves, but I wanted to capture how painful the entire process would be, and make it painful to watch. Although the film did have a lot of comedy, I wanted to treat the violence realistically to make it as terrible as violence always is”.
- During the scene where David is running around London nude, the woman he runs into at the zoo was not informed that actor David Naughton would be naked. She was just told that a man was going to come out and say something to her.
- While shooting the scene with the werewolf trapped in the porno theater, the people gathered around the entrance thought there was really a wild animal in the theater. John Landis wanted genuine reactions so he didn’t inform anyone that it was fake. When the werewolf bursts through the theater, some of the screams were indeed genuine.